By David Luttenberger, CPP
Global Packaging Director, Mintel Group Ltd.
It’s been two months since my last blog post on Chiefpackagingofficer.com. During that time I’ve literally either set foot in or flown through every time zone in the world. While circumnavigating the globe and racking up more OneWorld and Star Alliance frequent fliers miles than I care to count, I’ve visited dozens of retailers, brand-owners, converters, and design agencies in North and South America. I’ve shared packaging insights focused on consumer perceptions with globally recognized CPGs in multiple cities in Australia, while listening to how they struggle to implement innovation and achieve economies of scale on a continent with just 23 million people. I’ve trained colleagues in Singapore on how the global packaging industry is organized. I’ve flown back-and-forth across India, visiting Mumbai, Kolkata and Bangalore. There, I met with that region’s most prominent brands and most influential packaging converters, both of whom were eager to hear about Western packaging innovations (especially flexible packaging and any container type that facilitates re-use), but who also lamented the fact they could generally not exploit them due to cost.
During each visit and following presentations, and sometimes spirited Q&A sessions or, in a few cases, a confidential review of packaging concepts, I introduced the concept of the chief packaging officer. I shared links to chiefpackagingofficer.com and the four previous blogs I’ve written. I encouraged those I spoke with to spend some time perusing the various offerings the site had to offer. Most were eager to review the site and promised to provide me with some feedback on what they found.
As part of the chief packaging officer discussion, I shared the premise of how packaging innovation has historically taken a back seat to product development. I emphasized how consumers today want to know that brands think of them as individuals rather than as a demographic or cohort. I conveyed how packaging is the only launch type among the five recorded by Mintel (new product, new formulation, new variety, relaunch, new package) that, according to Mintel’s Global New Products Database, has shown steady and continuous growth during the past five years. I illustrated my points with examples of how the more successful launches have tapped into the idea of creating packaging solutions that bridge the gap between what consumers say is important to them about packaging and what they claim is not performing for them at the point of sale, during the use-occasion, or in an end-of-life scenario.
In the few weeks since my return, I’ve received a handful of emails expressing thanks from clients for turning them on to such a rich resource of packaging information. A few have said they have bookmarked the site so they can return to it on a regular basis. One even expressed strong interest in submitting his resume and applying for the CPO position I outlined in my May 12 post, “Strategist, Tactician, Leader: Defining the Role of the Chief Packaging Officer (https://www.chiefpackagingofficer.com/strategist-tactician-leader-defining-the-role-of-the-chief-packaging-officer/), in which I created a [ficticious] executive search. But then he also commented that at his company, a major food producer in Australia, because packaging was considered a “technical/execution” function and not a marketing function, that a CPO-type role would never be created.
While client confidentiality prevents me from revealing the brand owners I met with, the consensus among those who’ve emailed me has been that a CPO-type position would most likely report through procurement rather than to the COO or CEO. The reason? Cost drives everything at consumer packaged goods companies in India, and with good reason. According to the International Monetary Fund World Economic Outlook, per capita income in India is about US$1,627, or nearly seven times lower than the world’s average. Ironically, the exploitation of packaging innovation, like so many things, is dictated by the economics of longitude and latitude rather than by true need. But that’s a discussion for another time.
What’s relevant right now, for this post, is that my travels of late have sparked an idea – or more appropriately, perhaps an epiphany.
Of the nearly 50 clients I’ve met with in the past 60 days, when meeting with brand owners, the audience tended to be a small group – five to 10 people, and generally representing a single discipline: marketing, insights, or the catch-all, “R&D.”
Conversely, when visiting with converter clients in the US, Brazil, Australia, and India, the audience has tended to be larger, sometimes as many as several dozen people, and interestingly, typically includes a more diverse representation of functions; marketing, insights/research, package engineering, production, and most importantly, CPG account management and new business development.
So, what’s the epiphany, you ask? Well, a former boss once told me I didn’t think “big enough.” His observation was in response to an idea I presented for a small conference to address the rapid development of PLA (polylactic acid) and how it would impact the plastic packaging marketplace and PET in particular. At the time (early 2002) I really thought I was on to something, as the PLA discussion was beginning to ramp up as NatureWorks began to generate some press with its new biopolymer and production capabilities. Perhaps in response to my boss’s challenge or more likely, because he incentivized me to “think bigger,” I conceived and produced the first “sustainable packaging” conference in North America. In three years, I had landed the exclusive endorsement from the industry’s premier NGO, attracted more than 1,200 industry professionals to the conference, and created a seven-figure revenue stream.
So what’s the point?
The point is that once again, perhaps I’ve been thinking too narrowly. Specifically, given my travels of late and based on what I’ve heard and observed at the companies I’ve visited around the world, perhaps I’ve pigeon-holed myself into thinking about the type of company that could benefit from a chief packaging officer. While my focus has been on generating interest in and making a case for the creation of a chief packaging officer with the CPG executive ranks, perhaps, packaging converters could also benefit from a chief packaging officer.
The most progressive packaging converters today are reorganizing themselves around client’s categories, such as food, beauty/personal care, household, or beverages or pet care, rather than around a packaging material or structure. Converters are hiring directors of packaging and consumer insights managers from the CPG segment as they build their stories around the value consumers see in packaging attributes, rather than around selling technology. Directors of sales and new business at converter companies are delivering insights that resonate with brand managers vs. pricing models that stall at procurement. And packaging engineers and production managers are collaborating to find ways to deliver packaging solutions that satisfy both brand managers and purchasing directors, while delighting retailers and consumers. To do that takes a coordinated strategy not currently present at the converter level. It takes a chief packaging officer – a strategist, a tactician, a logistician, and most importantly, big picture thinker with a direct line to the ultimate decision maker.
It’s time to “think bigger” about where a chief packaging officer can add value.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: David Luttenberger is the Global Packaging Director at Mintel. He has 24 years of packaging experience. He can be reached at email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @packaginggeek.